Christmas is about Christ. Or it is about nothing.
Amid the varied customs and colorful traditions of the season, there are many non-facts mixed with the very important facts. We need to know the difference.
The birth of Jesus Christ was not a "current" matter. It went back to the very beginning. Some people claim that only "seeing is believing." For many years, there were specific prophecies about the coming of the Christ child. Some believed. Some did not. But then it happened -- just as prophets, revealing God's plan hundreds of years in advance, had said.
The date Dec. 25 has no special significance in itself. For more than three centuries, the birth of Jesus Christ was celebrated at various dates. The actual time of His birth has not been established.
The ancient Romans had a December feast to Saturn, a Saturnalia. About the middle of the fourth century, Bishop Liberius and Christians at Rome who wanted no part in the pagan observance began to note the birth of Jesus Christ in that period, on Dec. 25. Christians in Egypt celebrated on Jan. 6, and many of the Eastern churches still do.
It is doubted that Jesus was born in December. According to the Scriptures, the shepherds were in the fields, a common practice in summer and fall but not in December. Further, there was no room in the inn for Mary and Joseph, but the stable, probably a hollowed-out cave in a hillside, was vacant because the sheep and cattle were out grazing. That indicates an earlier month of the year.
Not 'A.D. 1'
Nor was Jesus born in "A.D. 1." A Roman monk named Dionysius Exiguus made calculations in the sixth century Anno Domini (A.D. -- "in the year of the Lord") relating the calendar to the birth of Christ. He apparently was not very good with his history and arithmetic and made an error in his calculations.
The Bible tells us that Jesus was born when Herod was king in the Holy Land. Rome was ruled by Caesar Augustus. Quirenius was governor of Syria. All of these facts of secular history indicate the time of the actual birth of Christ was somewhere between 9 B.C. and 6 B.C., a period in which a tax order went out, as the Bible relates.
Furthermore, the Bible tells that after the wise men came to Herod, he ordered the slaughter of all male children under the age of 2 in Bethlehem, a bestial effort to wipe out One Who had been prophesied would be king. History tells us that Herod died in 4 B.C., meaning the child-slaughter order preceded that date. Apparently, the birth of Jesus was within two years before the death order, since children under 2 years old were killed.
Oct. 3, 7 B.C. theory
Johannes Kepler, noted German astronomer, suggested the possibility that the birth date of Christ was Oct. 3, 7 B.C., since there was a conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in the proper position at that time to appear to the wise men as an unusually bright star. Others offer different theories.
Whatever the date, the prophecy of the coming of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of mankind is very old.
'In the beginning'
The Bible begins with Genesis 1:1: "In the beginning God ... ." And in the New Testament, in the book of John, Chapter 1, verses 1 and 14 declare, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ... and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us ... ."
Many Christians are fascinated by the early prophecy contained in Genesis 3:15. Sin had entered God's creation, for the serpent (the devil) had tempted and Adam and Eve had yielded, being disobedient to God. It was in that situation that God promised the serpent: "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." These unusual words have been interpreted as a promise of the defeat of sin through the virgin birth of a Savior -- the "seed" of a woman -- with the Savior inflicting a fatal wound on sin, but in the process suffering death on the cross. Sin was overcome by this payment, followed by resurrection into life.
'I shall see him'
As the children of Israel were on their exodus from Egyptian captivity, they stopped in the land of Moab, much to the chagrin of the king of Moab, who was named Balak. He looked fearfully upon the Israelites in their camp spreading over an area the size of the valley Chattanooga occupies. Faced with so many foreigners in his country, Balak called upon the prophet Balaam to curse them, offering great rewards of material things and personal prestige. But Balaam, overcoming personal temptation only through guidance by the Lord, refused to issue the curse. Instead, he spoke these words of prophecy, recorded in Numbers 24:17: "I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth."
Here is prophetic announcement that out of the line descending from Jacob would come a "Star" and a "Sceptre," indicating kingly dominion and power, referring to the star that would show the birth of Christ the King at Bethlehem.
Moses was confronted with much difficulty among the children of Israel as they continued their Exodus. God had him prophesy to them about a greater One in Whom they should place their reliance, One to be of flesh, like himself. His words are recorded in Deuteronomy 18:15: "The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall harken."
The great prophet Isaiah was led by God to add more specifics to the mounting prophecy that was to be fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Isaiah declared these things in Chapters 7:14 and 9:6: "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign: Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (meaning God with us) ... . For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace."
What was the purpose of all this? Isaiah described it as the defeat of the sins man himself could not overcome. Chapter 53:5-6: "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him: and with his stripes we are healed. All we, like sheep, have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all."
The prophet Micah, in Chapter 5:2, even told where the miraculous birth of Christ would take place: "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel: whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting."
This is a significant reference to the fact that he was not speaking of a temporal or secular ruler but of an eternal one.
With these prophecies pointing the way, the people had cause for hope. But they, as we do today, turned away from God. When they obeyed God, they prospered. When they disobeyed Him, they fell. In the course of history, the people of Judah were taken into captivity by Babylonian enemies. While in exile, Daniel uttered a prophecy that indicated even the time when the Messiah, Jesus Christ, would be born.
When Jerusalem was captured, its walls and buildings were torn down. Daniel spoke of a time when the city would be raised again, and dated the coming of Christ from that time. In the King James translation of Daniel, we find references to "weeks," this being translated from a word meaning "sevens." If we read the King James version "weeks" as "sevens," we find reference to numbers of unspecified units of time (that we now recognize as years) in Daniel 9:25: "Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem, unto the Messiah the Prince, shall be seven sevens, and threescore and two sevens; the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times."
It came to pass that when Artaxerxes ruled, he sent forth an order for the Jewish captives to return to Jerusalem to rebuild their city. And, indeed, "seven sevens" (49) plus "three-score and two sevens" (434), or a total of 483 years after that order, Jesus Christ, the Messiah, Lord and Savior, ministered in the Holy Land.
These Old Testament prophecies told the "who, what, when, where, why and how" of Christmas. And John 3:16 sums it up meaningfully: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
With the spirit of that promise, by acceptance of the gift of God through faith, everyone may find the real, happy meaning of Christmas.